One can normally spot signs that a ‘local’ band is destined to break through such geographically limited exposure. It’ll be a combination of an almost unseen glint in their eyes; an unshakeable combination of self-confidence and drive; an ability to transcend local scenes and cliques; and, not least, the creation of music that – even from early days – hints, or perhaps exposes outright, something special.
Spring Offensive are such a band. Since their early days, they’ve always done things slightly differently: joining in with, but picking a delicate path through, Oxfordshire’s venues and music scene; staging their own gigs that are as much about the artistry and theatre of environment as they are the performance of live music; ‘crowdsourcing’ funds for releases that saw them inviting fans on board somewhat before Kickstarter et al made it almost the norm to operate in such a fashion.
Gathering a strong local following, and soaking up admiration nationally and beyond through a relentless schedule of touring and promotion, Spring Offensive have released their debut album Young Animal Hearts at a good time. They’re not new and an unknown quantity, but they’re not long in the tooth or uncomfortably familiar. This eleven-track album builds on the DIY-indie-rock-taken-upscale breadcrumb trail they’ve left in their career so far, and easily sets them apart as a band that’s on their way to becoming special, unique and – whatever it may mean – successful.
From the hushed, close vocals of opener ‘Not Drowning But Waving’ on, Young Animal Hearts is grown up, finely crafted and musically rich and varied. Although a Spring Offensive template may be loosely overlaid across these songs – one that combines rich, soft, often repetitive vocals with poetic, portentous music – there are enough touches revealed here to confirm that they’re a band that’s going beyond the norm. Many groups are following a somewhat similar path: small-scale epics of refined indie guitar music, mixing in the echo and breadth of post-rock in sonics, structure and focus. Not many do what’s evident here – remember to place songs and melody (and no small amount of swagger and funk) at the heart of this kind of music. So, tracks like ‘Bodylifting’, ‘Hengelo’ and ‘Cut The Root’ are almost poppy in their stuttered, spacious alt-indie-disco, before a sombre mid-section tone to the album is reached with ‘The River’ and ‘Carrier’.
After ‘Speak’ picks up the pace to lead into ‘No Assets’, the latter revealing the spectre of Foals in its clipped melodies and suave structure, the trilogy of tracks that ends Young Animal Hearts – ‘Something Unkind’, ’52 Miles’ and ‘Young Animal Hearts’ – bounces us between the two poles of emotion that have been laid out earlier, and settles with a hopeful, positive-sounding closure.
So, are Spring Offensive the latest in a long series of Oxford bands to extend their reach to greater things? On the evidence of this album, and reports of increasingly fevered reactions to their live shows, certainly. This far they’ve retained strong connections with, and eager support for, Oxford’s music scene, and that’s one aspect of their impressive approach that will hopefully linger. And aside from all of that, Young Animal Hearts is a seriously good album.
(Young Animal Hearts is released on 10 March 2014)